Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wednesday July 8th, Tallinn, Estonia

     I've misplaced my notes so this is off the top of my head a couple of days later.

     We were out of the hotel by 6:15 this morning.  Fortunately the tram stop was right outside the hotel. Tram number 9 delivered us to the ferry terminal in about 15 minutes.  We checked in and at about 6:50 a.m. we boarded the Silja Tallink Line's 'Superstar' ship/ferry headed for Tallinn, Estonia.  Another new experience for me, being on a large ship.  I knew there would be cars on the ship, but was very surprised at the number of long-haul trucks that were there. Just something I hadn't thought about.

     We didn't get breakfast at the hotel since we had to leave so early, so we headed for the buffet, but it was sold out. No worries, they had a cafeteria line in another part of the ship.  It was mediocre food, at best, and after breakfast we decided to explore the ship.  The ship left Helsinki at 7:30. Out on the deck we learned it was quite windy.  It was also chilly and not looking like it was going to be nice weather.  The ship also had a few places to shop, including a grocery store, selling mostly alcohol and candy. I also noticed cheeses, packaged meats, toys,  souvenirs, and pet supplies in this grocery.

     The ship seemed to have a mix of people on it-- Finns and Swedes and tourists headed to Tallinn for a day trip,  people headed home to Estonia after a visit to Finland, truck drivers, families. I was puzzled by the people traveling with empty luggage carts until Riina told me that it is much cheaper to buy alcohol in Estonia or the duty free shops on the ferry than Finland.

     We arrived in Tallinn around 9:30 and followed many of our fellow shipmates to Old Town Tallinn.  Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia, a country which was occupied by the Soviet Union from World war II until 1991.  You can read more about Tallinn here, if you're interested.  The Old Town has buildings from the 13th century, winding cobblestone streets, and lots of tourists. It took over 30 minutes to walk from the ship to the main square, probably closer to 40 if you count disembarking.  We stopped to take some photos and peek in shops along the way. We went to the tourist information office for a map and to find out about guided tours. A tour was leaving in 10 minutes time, at 10:30, from a hotel just outside the Old Town district. We hustled over there, arriving at 10:28, and found the bus.  There were maybe 15 Japanese tourists and 4 Americans already on the bus.

The bus took us away from the Old Town area and we saw old wooden houses in various states of repair, now a trendy area to live.  We also saw sites from the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, as some of the boating events were held in Tallinn, and drove through the Kadriorg area of parks and palaces. We stopped at the Tallinn Song Festival grounds where there is a huge bandshell built in the 1960s.  The Estonian Song Festival is held there every 5 years and entertainers such as Madonna and Elton John have performed there, too.

     The bus then drove to the upper part of Old Town where the upper class German nobles lived.  Estonia has been ruled by Danes, Swedes, and Russians (and after their short lived independence between the two World Wars, the Soviet Union until 1991) but the Baltic German noble families of the 17th - 19th centuries had a strong influence on the food, culture, and architecture of Tallinn. The upper part of Old Town has large residences, beautiful churches, and wonderful views of the the lower part of Old Town. I enjoyed the little old buildings and narrow streets of the lower Old Town the best.

     After our guided tour ended at the Town Hall, it was close to 1:00 p.m. We'd passed a restaurant called Kuldse Notsu Kõrts, or Golden Piglet Inn, that advertised Estonian country food so we headed back there for lunch.  We ordered fried bread and the meat platter for two to share three ways.  Karl and I drank Estonian beers and Riina drank Estonian lemonade. I tasted the lemonade and I thought it tasted like ground up Sweetarts dissolved in water. The beers were both good.  The fried bread was yummy and we all loved the meat plate.  It had a pork knuckle, a thick slice of pork roast, bacon, ribs, fried tenderloin, sauerkraut, potatoes, and root vegetables.  Like I said, it was the meat plate for two, but it was enough food for four.

     While we were eating it began to rain. We were eating outside under a canopy, but since it was raining we ordered coffee and sat for a while longer. There were a few more places we wanted to see, and we didn't have to be back at the ship until 7 p.m., so we spent the next couple of hours wandering around and popping into shops.  We finally surrendered to the rain and left the Old Town and went to the Viru Keskus shopping mall. It was a large, multi-floor shopping mall. We all had coffee and dessert, then Riina went shopping and Karl and I took advantage of the free WiFi.

     At around 6:15 we headed back to the ferry terminal D.  Thankfully it has stopped raining.  The grocery store in the terminal was a madhouse with people loading up on alcoholic beverages to put on their luggage carts.  We boarded the Star at 6:50 p.m. and found a nice table looking out on the water. The Star was a bit older and a bit smaller than the Superstar, but it was still nice.  We spent most of the time reading but Riina and I did do a bit of candy shopping.  We got back to Helsinki around 9:45 and were at the hotel by 10:30. This was a fun day.  I'd like to return to Tallinn again.

     I'm posting a link to the photos here but I will add titles to the photos later.

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